Installed in 2012, this is a sumptuous “permanent” exhibition of the best, the majority of representative, and the majority of compelling curiosities of our huge scrimshaw holdings — a generous selection drawn from the world’s biggest and greatest arsenal. The exhibition is the partial result of 25+ years of cataloging and research study.

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The exhibition presents the scrimshaw itself in all its distinctive and also occupationally rooted glory. Many of the pieces are on exhilittle bit for the initially time; many others have not been on public display for decades. The exhibition also reflects some of the pictorial sources of the whalers’ work; it traces such topical themes as symbolic patriotic figures, Amerideserve to naval prowess, portraiture, fashion plates, ethnic diversity, the Napoleonic mystique, and the whale hunt itself; it attributes works by English, Scottish, Azorean, Cape Verdean, African-American, Continental European, Eskimo, Pacific Islander, and Japanese practitioners; and also it illustprices some of the tools and mainstream approaches of engraving cream color and also bone, and also constructing “built” scrimshaw at sea.


Scrimshandering, as the whalemales dubbed it — making scrimshaw — was an native and exclusive shipboard art of the deepwater trades, exercised mostly by whalers but additionally occasionally by navy tars and vendor seaguys. The whalemen’s practice of engraving images on whale ivory, walrus cream color, baleen, and also skeletal bone originated in the late Colonial era, nearly precisely coevally via the beginnings of whaling out of New Bedford; it matured in the 1820s and also ’30s, as New Bedford itself ascfinished to conquer whaling worldwide; it continued well into the 20th century, best as much as the collapse of standard hand-whaling on sailing ships and also rowboats; and, reborn among the “modern” whalers on mechanized floating-factory whaleships and shore stations, it persisted throughout most of the 20th century.

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A significant majority of the pieces on exhilittle bit — photographic sperm whale teeth, walrus tusks, swifts, canes, corcollection busks, watch hutches, birdceras, pie crimpers, and miscellaneous devices and also domestic implements for the sewing room and also the kitchen — had actually their genesis aboard whaleships from the New Bedford Port District. But, uniquely, the exhibition also consists of scrimshaw precursors — extraordinarily rare ornamented implements of skeletal bone from the Viking Era of medieval Normethod, and baleen objects from the Arctic whale fishery of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age — and noteworthy productions by foreign and immigive practitioners from eincredibly quarter of “the terraqueous globe” (to borrow Melville’s words), and the world’s only considerable collections of British scrimshaw and scrimshaw from the modern, 20th-century factory-ship era.